“Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny” Turns 50

Can you believe it’s been 50 years since the premiere of the widely loved Christmas classic Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)?

What’s that? You never heard of, let alone seen, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny? Impossible.

I’m joking. Of course you’ve seen it.

Actually, though I had heard about it for years, I watched it for the first time this morning, directly after a television production of The Nutcracker. What a double feature! Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is a notorious ill-made Christmas film directed by Richard Winer, whose only previous film had been a 1971 documentary about The Devil’s Triangle, narrated by Vincent Price.

The entire premise of the film is that Santa’s sleigh is stuck in the sand of a Florida beach and so he can’t make his regular Christmas delivery. His reindeer conveniently fled sometime before the cameras started rolling. Santa calls upon a bunch of random children, who run to help him (inexplicably in slo-mo), and then they attempt to pull him out using the muscular might of a gorilla, a donkey, a pig, a sheep, a cow, a horse, and a dog.

In case you were fooled, the gorilla is of course a guy in an ape suit. The other animals are real but untrained and basically refuse to cooperate on camera while the actors try to make them stay in the frame. For some reason there are several inserts featuring Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn who must have taken their raft into a time tunnel. This literally goes on for 20 minutes, with Santa (who reminds me of Hal Smith who played the drunk Otis on The Andy Griffith Show) constantly complaining about the heat and how he’s “got to do something to get out of here”, a common sentiment among many people who find themselves in Florida.

Then, without warning the film shifts to an equally el cheapo production of a fairy tale, either Jack and the Beanstalk or Thumbelina, depending on which print of the film you’re watching. Both of the films within the film were directed by sometime pornographer Barry Mahon, who also directed The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969), which I wrote about here. The fairy tale lasts for 40 years, I mean, minutes. When we return to the framing device, Santa begs the angry looking children not to give up hope. They take off. Then Santa falls asleep in the hot sun.

He wakes up some time later to notice a vintage fire truck approaching with a terrifying giant white rabbit at the wheel. It’s clearly an Easter Bunny costume from the same shop that rented the gorilla and Santa Clause outfits to the producer, but we are informed that he is actually the “Ice Cream Bunny”. Likely story! (There is no ice cream to be seen). The truck approaches in real time — gets there in about ten minutes. Long story long, Santa gets on the fire truck and the Bunny drives away, with a herd of children following. If Santa and the Bunny had done a Pied Piper and led the kids into the ocean we’d have had a much more memorable fairy tale film.

Most of the dialogue seems improvised; it’s shot pretty much like a home movie. Yet it was apparently shown in some theatres, so I guess it’s fair to review it. It’s available on Youtube, of course. But pop about three gummies first. Merry Christmas!

And if you’d like to know about some other weird Christmas classics, go here and here.